The homogenisation of WoW's two factions

I've been hopping back and forth between a bunch of my lowbie alts lately, looking at the last corners of revamped Azeroth that I hadn't seen yet, and while I've been enjoying the experience overall, it also reminded me of something that has been bugging me about the Cataclysm quest revamp. No, I'm not talking about the speed and ease of levelling this time - I'm thinking of the homogenisation of the two factions.

Let me grab my veteran cane for a moment and say that "back in my day"... I levelled up as Alliance first and found that, in the most general terms, Alliance quests mostly seemed to be about one or more of the following things: politics (mostly human-based), searching for ancient artifacts and lost treasure (dwarves), slightly mad inventors trying to reclaim their lost home (gnomes), protecting nature (night elves) and gathering goods for trade. Basically the Alliance side seemed to represent a "classic" fantasy society that was reasonably well off apart from the occasional intrigue, kobolds in the woods, and bigger but also more vague threats looming beyond the borders.

When I rerolled Horde several months later, it was actually a bit of a culture shock, and not just because Orgrimmar was very different from Stormwind and I kept getting lost in the Undercity. Playing the other faction just felt very different in terms of atmosphere and story. The Horde felt a lot more down to earth, or more savage if you prefer, and the quests seemed to imply that everyone was constantly fighting for survival. They were about hunting for food (tauren), gathering building materials (orcs), trying to carve out some space in the world, ancestor worship, dealing with dark magic (trolls) and struggling with and rebelling against an unpleasant past (undead).

Even though there wasn't a whole lot going on in terms of Horde vs. Alliance in the overarching story, I was always kind of wary of the enemy, because I knew first-hand that they lived in a very different world and had very different priorities.

There've always been zones with neutral quest givers, but those never bothered me. I didn't find it hard to believe that there were outsiders who simply didn't give a damn which side you belonged to and simply wanted to hire you regardless, especially if it concerned a greater cause. I didn't feel that this affected the way I viewed either side.

In Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, the borders between the factions started to get a little fuzzy however, as they still had separate bases in most zones but often pursued the same goals regardless, which made many faction-specific quests feel a bit same-y. Still, there were a fair chunk of storylines left on each side that were exclusive to that faction and remained in your memory as uniquely Horde or Alliance.

To take Hellfire Peninsula as an example, there are a lot of parallels between the quests from Thrallmar and Honor Hold. Where the Alliance clears up the Path of Anguish, the Horde kills the exact same mobs in Felspark Ravine. While you burn Horde blade throwers for Honor Hold, the Horde has you setting fire to the Alliance cannons on the other side of the map. Both sides send you on the same tough group quest, even if it comes under two different names.

However, the zone also still had plenty of interesting moments that were unique to their faction. On Alliance side, who could forget The Exorcism of Colonel Jules? Who didn't feel bad about the events set in motion In Search of Sedai? Who didn't get tired of players asking in general chat where to find Nethergarde Bitter, over and over again?

In the meantime the Horde got to be amazed to rediscover the clan of its Warchief, the Forsaken got to make friends with some local undead, and vindictive players got to help a duped blood elf woman get revenge on her cheating husband's mistress. While Horde and Alliance may have shared the same goals in regards to the Burning Legion, they were still two distinctly different cultures with different priorities.

In Cataclysm however, it feels to me like the borders haven't just become fuzzy, they've almost been completely erased beyond the immediate starter zones. The two factions seem more and more alike to me, or rather the Horde appears to have become more and more like the Alliance. Orgrimmar may still look very different in style, but it's every bit as pompous as Stormwind these days. Garrosh and Varian are both unpopular warmongers, and the orcs in general feel a lot like more aggressive humans to me, with their fight for survival and shamanistic roots largely swept under the rug. (There is a quest in Durotar where a shaman tries to convince an enforcer to be less hasty and aggressive, gets completely ignored... and nothing bad comes of it.) The Bilgewater goblins have been set up to be "gnomes for the Horde" and even share the gnomish backstory of having lost their home. Even sub-factions have been copied across, and where the dwarven Explorer's League formerly had a monopoly on archaeology as a hobby, the Horde has now received its own version in the Reliquary.

If you look at it at the level of individual quests, the parallels become even more glaring. In neutral zones where both factions have their own bases, it's often shocking to see just how close to identical their quests are. During the end of the Lashtail Hatchling chain in Stranglethorn you talk to a draenei priest who can't speak proper common as Alliance... and as Horde you get a troll priest who speaks orcish exactly the same way. (One of the user comments on the page for the draenei does in fact bring up in-game evidence to show that the character was simply copy and pasted.)

Or take the Badlands, which I replayed only yesterday: as Alliance you get sent out to hunt with a group of dwarf NPCs, as Horde you get a group of orcs with exactly the same abilities. God help us if either faction did anything slightly differently.

This just strikes me as lazy. Clearly the developers thought that if they made a nice quest chain for one faction, they could just copy it over to the other side and get two quests for the price of one! Maybe they even thought that they were doing their players a favour this way, by not "limiting" precious lore to one faction only. I really dislike this practice however. If you're just going to give both sides the same quest, simply make the quest hub neutral and be done with it. Making two faction-specific towns that offer exactly the same quests, only from different NPCs, just waters down faction identity and sets players up for disappointment. The former because a draenei shouldn't be acting like a troll and orcs shouldn't be acting like dwarves, and the latter because by setting up separate bases for the two factions, you create an expectation that they'll actually contain different content that makes it worth levelling an alt of the other faction to see - if you then just end up with a carbon copy of the same content you've already done, that's nothing but a massive letdown.

That aside, I also think that it leads to Blizzard making their own lore less convincing in a way. These days the writers are all about beating the war drums between the two factions, but when the game actually represents both sides as more similar than ever, the hostility only becomes less believable. Don't waste all that wonderful background lore by having all races of both factions pursue the exact same interests in the contested zones!


  1. From a lore point of view both sides are very similar right now and are again at war. I do not think that this is bad really, although it is certainly a matter of taste.

    I'd rather critizise that after level 60 and one zone at 85, there's nothing left of the war. I don't feel at war the way I felt during classic. One reason is certainly the cross-server BGs which are loreless and meaningless match-and-play shows nowadays.

  2. I have been bitching about this problem for ages and for some reason, no one ever believes me. I talk about how the quests are nearly identical between both factions and my friends will always say "I've leveled toons on both sides, and the quests are not that same." It makes me wonder what game they're playing -- it's been frustrating! I'm so glad you took the time to write this os I can know tehre is someone else out there who can see the enough of the big picture to recognize how practically identical everything has become the past few expansions. =/ Thank you.

  3. I think the question comes down to: who really benefits from exclusive questing experiences?

    You are correct in that the beginning Horde quests have a totally different vibe than beginning Alliance (pre-Cata). I played a Blood Elf warlock as my very first character, until level 40ish, then switched to Alliance. But how many people actually ever switch factions? Until very recently, you could not even have characters of different factions on the same server. You are absolutely encouraged to pick a faction and stick with it for your entire time in WoW, never knowing whether you would have enjoyed WoW more as the opposite faction.

    I will agree that erasing the line waters down the individual faction/race flavors. And more than likely it was done as a method to save development time that Blizzard can't afford anymore with the A Team working on Titan. But in the whole scheme of things, the actual amount of people capable of discerning the difference is vanishingly small.

    I dunno, I could just be bitter that Alliance quests are such goddamn boring garbage compared to the Horde stuff. Can't get those years back, and I'll never know how much better it would have been (although I saw most of it later on alts).

  4. You could always have alliance and horde toons on the same PVE server. The restriction affected only PvP servers.

    But I agree, I would assume that the majority of players don't have multiple level 85 chars on different factions. Therefore the effort would be wasted *).

    *) As wasted as creating raid content that only 5% of the player will see. :)

  5. @Nils: I think that has more to do with Blizzard making every new raid boss bigger and badder than the previous one. That is to say, they were always meant to be threatening, but that threat used to be somewhat localised, so it made sense that people didn't care about it equally in different parts of the world and sometimes had other priorities. However, when you've got a mad dragon aspect flying around and scorching the land across the entire planet, it really makes most aspects of the Horde/Alliance conflict appear incredibly petty and the devs can't really focus on it without making the NPCs seem extremely stupid.

    @Dawn: Your friends can't have levelled anything recently if they think that! ':) Though as I said, it varies - in some zones there's more variety between the factions than in others.

    @Azuriel & Kring: As Kring said, you've always been able to create toons of both factions on non-PvP servers (the majority). And considering how fast levelling is these days and how many different XP boosts there are, I have a hard time interpreting that as Blizzard not encouraging people to have lots of alts (of both factions). In fact, I don't think I know a single player these days who doesn't have multiple characters, even if they aren't all level-capped. I suppose that's anecdotal, but I've seen no evidence whatsoever that people don't level lots of alts.

    Out of curiosity, what did you find so "garbage" about the Alliance quests?

  6. I think this dovetails nicely with my opinion that the two new races are the most disappointing part of the expansion. There's nothing new or unique out there, and they aren't vital to the story.

    Of course, with the emphasis on endgame raiding, I guess you could say that this was all of secondary importance anyway. Which is unfortunate, if you ask me.

  7. I'll answer the question you posed to Kring's statement:

    It's part of a problem that leads a section of the Alliance playerbase to believe that the developers care about the Horde a lot more, to the detriment of the 'other faction', which only seems to exist to make the Horde look good.

    Case in point; compare the questing of the Alliance in the Eastern kingdoms. The entire Forsaken experience shows their story not only moving forward, but with a steamroll victory over the Alliance that nothing short of plot armor can explain.

    Whereas the human experience has not changed at all since Vanilla. Think about that for a moment. The human questline leads you to eventually go against the Defias (again), going into Duskwood to defeat Abercrombie (again), fighting and beating the Blackrock (AGAIN). See a pattern here? As a side note; has any of the revamped Horde questing zones are nothing more than glorified Rambo and CSI references? Don't think so.

    Look over to Kalimdor; the Worgen and Draenei are tacked onto the Night Elf questing areas like an afterthought, while the Gobos get an entire zone to themselves.

    And despite all the claims from WC3 that the Night Elves are this clandestine and powerful race, they're reduced to easily killed mooks that the Horde can steamroll with a flick of the wrist because the plot allows it.

    Bitter? Oh, a tad.

  8. That was one thing that really annoyed me with Cataclysm. I don't know how it is for Horde but Alliance lost a lot of their "important spots". Important for the "feeling" of the world.

    - The great dam. Why would you destroy that?
    - Astranaar. Why would you destroy such an iconic village? And slaughter all their inhabitants?
    - Auberdine. Great, another city under attack.
    - Un'goro. Oh, look, we lost our base.
    - Feralas. Hey, great idea, let's destroy Feathermoon.
    - Wetlands. Hey guys, there's this iconic Alliance town, Menethil, let's flood it.
    - Oh, Southshore. Let's show the horde that their world PvP was a success. Let's destroy this Alliance town.
    - The little city where we had to buy the cooking book. Destroyed.

    Maybe it's the same for the horde? But it didn't make sense to me to destroy all the nice parts and expect player to like the new world.

  9. Blizzard totally messed things up in Burning Crusade with the Aldor and Scryer factions in Shattrath. They should have kept it so that Alliance were Aldor, and Horde Scryer. It just makes no sense that orcs wouls align themsleves with Draenei.

    Anyway, I think the whole idea that you have 2 opposing factions that don't actually war against each other, but rather against a 3rd party (be it Arthas, Deathwing, Twilight Gods, whatever) fails totally.

    From a pure playing perspective, I think dividing the playing popuation into 2 factions is a bad idea. Lets assume that 5000 people play Horde and 5000 play Alliance on a given server. That means automatically that when I am looking for a raid guild or even LFG for heroics, there are 5000 people I cannot play this game with on my main.
    Doesn't it make more sense to have 10000 people to play with, rather than 5000? Sure, let people stay in their respective factions, but why stop me from raiding or doing any other activity with people from the other faction, unless in a pvp battle?
    As for the lore, get rid of Garrosh and Varian, and bring in the peace-makers so that I can play with any race, and visit any city. You can still have pvp battles, like you do in any game. No reason to bar me from playing with 50% of WoW players.

  10. I'll see your faction homogeneity and raise you some race identity!

    I feel quite strongly about my allegiance to the Tauren, noble warriors, Horde druids of the claw (pff troll loa), and all that. Even in Vanilla, your chance to feel like you were playing a Tauren, as opposed to a Horde faceless wannabe Garrosh (I went places and I killed stuff!) are nil.

    This is what I would like to see. Zones that were the equivalent of a Bioware MMO, like Mass Effect 2. If you are Horde, and you go Camp Taurajo, you get to play Noble Horde (light points). Or you go Hillsbrad and play Evil Horde (dark points). If you go to one, you lock out the majority of quests in the other. You can't meaningfully play all the zones anyway because of nerf levelling. That way, someone that wants to play Horde like ME SMASH, or someone that wants to play "Hai, Noble Savage" can do so. Same for Alliance, do you want to genuinely play for the good guys. or do you actually want to be as twisted as the worst the Horde has to offer?

    So little true choice, so little RP potential. I have recently fallen back in love with single player MMOs for the feeling of choice. Hell, if I find that side mission smacks of something immoral, I just won't do it! If I rolled a good guy, I;'ll play that way!

    Blizz' moral characterisation is basically dreadful. All the key characters are either emo like Thrall or dicks like Varian / Garrosh. I still very much enjoy WoW, but in spite of the characterisation, not because of it (and my HS is set to Thunder Bluff and I ignore Orgrimmar as much as possible).

  11. "There is a quest in Durotar where a shaman tries to convince an enforcer to be less hasty and aggressive, gets completely ignored... and nothing bad comes of it."
    This bugged me so much. Especially since it's not as if it was just the shaman saying it during the quest. He made you turn into a wolf and run around, as if to really drive home the point. And then, nothing. It was such a perfect setup for a "the elements are angry and now we must make up for our wrongs" quest.

    "It just makes no sense that orcs would align themsleves with Draenei."
    The slaughter of the draenei was a long time ago, for many orcs, before they were born. It is a new Horde, a new set of orcs, why would they carry the hatred of the past? It could be the draenei carrying the grudge, but the Aldor are meant to look past such things. They did manage to, somewhat, accept the presence of the Scryers.

    "You can still have pvp battles, like you do in any game."
    Without a factional war, that makes us into just random bandits and murderers. Who can attack who? If anyone, most players do not enjoy the level of paranoia required for an EvE world. If on the old faction lines, then we're randomly racist.

  12. @Dallanna: Thanks for explaining. I can see why Alliance players would be annoyed by these developments, though I think that in many areas the reason that changes were made was that the Alliance used to have an advantage to begin with. Zones like Elwynn or Duskwood weren't altered much because they were among the best Vanilla had to offer at the time and many players already loved them, whereas the old Silverpine Forest for example was boring and empty. Likewise I remember reading a dev chat somewhere where they said that they gave Azshara to the goblins because ending their story after the Lost Isles made them seem severely disadvantaged compared to the impressive (and at that point longer) Gilneas starting experience. Not to mention that the Alliance didn't just happen to have a completely empty zone next to its biggest capital like the Horde had Azshara. I suppose it could be interpreted as overcompensating.

    @Kring: I assume you got Auberdine and Astranaar mixed up, since the latter was still around last time I checked. And Marshal's Refuge in Un'goro was never an Alliance base; it was neutral. ;) But I get your point. The Horde had its losses too though: Camp Taurajo in the Barrens, Freewind Post in Thousand Needles, Bloodvenom Post in Felwood, Kargath in the Badlands.

    @Vlad: I think there's nothing wrong with having two factions in principle, but like you said it doesn't work so well to then focus on how they are both fighting a common enemy. I do wonder sometimes what a more open world without predefined player factions would be like. (I think Everquest works that way?)

    @BoxerDogs: I don't know; I think if you object to going places and killing stuff, you might be playing the wrong game. :P And you can decide to not do quests that you don't like, though I admit that the recent trend towards linearity could pose a serious problem there. That said, I agree that it felt very awkward to have my Forsaken mage help his faction with re-poisoning the Western Plaguelands and then move on to the Cenarion Circle quest hub and help with cleansing the land. Talk about morality whiplash.

  13. > Not to mention that the Alliance didn't just happen to have a
    > completely empty zone next to its biggest capital like the Horde had
    > Azshara.

    As far as I know there was an empty zone north of Stormwind which could be seen on vanilla map but wasn't in the game. Not like "blocked entrance" but like "not in the game". The adjacent zones were concatenated.


    > I assume you got Auberdine and Astranaar mixed up

    Indeed, I did and not for the first time. :)

    > Marshal's Refuge

    Oh, that's why there was this flying lion? It was a neutral base? Guess we had not enough horde on my server back then. :)

    > Freewind Post in Thousand Needles

    And why would they destroy the racing track? That was one of the amazing things of WoW when you've discovered them for the first time.